Climate

Must read AP analysis of stolen emails: An “exhaustive review” shows “the exchanges don’t undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.”

AP reporters read emails, 1 million words, and queried “seven experts in research ethics, climate science and science policy.”

In the past three weeks since the e-mails were posted, longtime opponents of mainstream climate science have repeatedly quoted excerpts of about a dozen e-mails. Republican congressmen and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have called for either independent investigations, a delay in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gases or outright boycotts of the Copenhagen international climate talks. They cited a “culture of corruption” that the e-mails appeared to show.

That is not what the AP found.

The Associated Press has emerged as one of the leaders in climate science reporting — just by actually talking to leading independent scientists and experts about major stories.  That was clear back in October when they published perhaps the best news article debunking the myth of recent global cooling (see Must-read AP story: Statisticians reject global cooling; Caldeira “” “To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous”).

In the case of the emails, while many in the status quo media have done a dreadful job — see WashPost goes tabloid, publishes second falsehood-filled op-ed by Sarah Palin in five months — the AP is in good company with its piece, “AP IMPACT: Science not faked, but not pretty“:

The AP once again took pains to talk to thoroughly review the subject they were writing about and talk to leading independent experts:

The e-mails were stolen from the computer network server of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia in southeast England, an influential source of climate science, and were posted online last month. The university shut down the server and contacted the police.

The AP studied all the e-mails for context, with five reporters reading and rereading them “” about 1 million words in total….

As part of the AP review, summaries of the e-mails that raised issues from the potential manipulation of data to intensely personal attacks were sent to seven experts in research ethics, climate science and science policy.

That approach makes for both fascinating reading and credible analysis:

“This is normal science politics, but on the extreme end, though still within bounds,” said Dan Sarewitz, a science policy professor at Arizona State University. “We talk about science as this pure ideal and the scientific method as if it is something out of a cookbook, but research is a social and human activity full of all the failings of society and humans, and this reality gets totally magnified by the high political stakes here.”

Mark Frankel, director of scientific freedom, responsibility and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science saw “no evidence of falsification or fabrication of data, although concerns could be raised about some instances of very ‘generous interpretations.’ ”

The AP’s discussion of the individual e-mails that have stirred controversy is also worth reading.  The AP again took pains to be fair:

None of the e-mails flagged by the AP and sent to three climate scientists viewed as moderates in the field changed their view that global warming is man-made and a threat.

Nor did it alter their support of the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which some of the scientists helped write.”My overall interpretation of the scientific basis for (man-made) global warming is unaltered by the contents of these e-mails,” said Gabriel Vecchi, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist.

Gerald North, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, headed a National Academy of Sciences study that looked at “” and upheld as valid “” Mann’s earlier studies that found the 1990s were the hottest years in centuries.

“In my opinion the meaning is much more innocent than might be perceived by others taken out of context. Much of this is overblown,” North said.

Kudos to AP and the large team they put on this important story:

Associated Press writers Jeff Donn in Boston, Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report. Troy Thibodeaux in Washington provided technical assistance. Satter reported from London, Borenstein from Washington and Ritter from New York.

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21 Responses to Must read AP analysis of stolen emails: An “exhaustive review” shows “the exchanges don’t undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.”

  1. Lou Grinzo says:

    I can barely imagine how the deniers will misquote, decontextualize, and otherwise abuse this AP piece to make it sound like “proof” that AGW is “a myth” or “a hoax” or “a religion” (I’ve seen that last one popping up more and more lately).

    I have a suggestion: If the deniers insist on this incredible overreach and broadbrushing–“Look! Some client scientists were not as pure as driven snow! AGW must therefore be false!!!”–why don’t we do the same. Why not tar the whole lot of them with the reports that the climate scientists in the UK have been receiving death threats from deniers?

    (See: Hacked email climate scientists receive death threats http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/08/hacked-climate-emails-death-threats)

    I’m 100% serious about this. If they want to be thugs and act in such disgusting ways in their zeal to drive us off a cliff, then why not call them out on it and make sure the whole world knows about their tactics? Seems fair and balanced to me.

  2. MarkB says:

    A couple of interesting notes from this article:

    —–

    McIntyre disagreed with how he is portrayed. “Everything that I’ve done in this, I’ve done in good faith,” he said.

    He also said he has avoided editorializing on the leaked e-mails. “Anything I say,” he said, “is liable to be piling on.”

    —–

    McIntyre says he’s avoided editorializing on the emails? What? Does he think people are stupid?

    http://deepclimate.org/2009/12/11/mcintyre-provides-fodder-for-skeptics/

    —–

    One question I had was if FOI requests could involve private emails (not just data and methods). This seems rather intrusive. An email from Jones indicates this: “…this is the person who is putting FOI requests for all e-mails Keith (Briffa) and Tim (Osborn) have written.” Given how such emails have been severely distorted by political hacks, it’s understandable why one would want to delete them. But what gives anyone the right to access personal emails? Should anyone writing email at any public university be concerned?

    One of the things the emails reveal is that privately, scientists think contrarian claims are usually junk and contrarians do not operate in good faith – the same as they think publicly.

  3. Leif says:

    This is a bit off topic in a way but it goes right to the heart of the problem. Money talks. You just cannot make this stuff up.
    http://www.boingboing.net/2009/12/13/hundreds-of-billions.html

  4. Tom Street says:

    Regardless of the science, people and politicians are not willing to do what is neceeary to sufficiently reduce greenhouse gases.

  5. ken levenson says:

    clearly the conspiracy only grows! :)

  6. Dano says:

    Lou Grinzo:

    I have been advocating that for years. I have to say, tho, as Dano can attest to, the shameless denialists and scurrilous pseudoskeptics and willfull disinformationists have no sense of hypocrisy at all, and will harrumph their umbrage at you for doing so.

    Rather, a hard smack on the face for their scurrilous victim bully behavior is appropriate.

    These people have a mental disconnect and whatever it takes to keep reality from invalidating their ideology and self-identity.

    Best,

    D

  7. Dano says:

    MarkB:

    They are shameless liars.

    They prey upon people who have a mental disconnect and whatever it takes to keep reality from invalidating their ideology and self-identity. So the gullible become stirred up, then they are effective Message Force Multipliers.

    Best,

    D

  8. J4zonian says:

    Alternate theory: They (at least some of them) are well-meaning but deluded people who are unconsciously projecting their own fearful, knee-jerk-lying, covering-up shadow on their opposition. This is clearly true. Whether any particular one of them is also a shameless liar is extremely difficult to tell with certainty and shouldn’t be such an issue, maybe.

    There appears to be a whole range of people, from utter liars to complete dolts and neurotically (even psychotically?) out-of-touch-with-reality crazies, and since it’s almost impossible to tell where most deniers are on that scale, we should concentrate on their non-science and OUR OWN MESSAGE and not get into a name-calling contest.

    Social psychology reveals that most people are more willing to believe bad(selfish/vengeful, etc.) things about a person’s motives than they are to believe facts or other arguments. (More projection?) But if we engage with the deniers in that bottom-feeding level of blame and insult, we will turn most people off to both sides AND the whole debate, and play into the liars’ hands by delaying action until it’s too late. We need to do everything we can to get our message out despite the corporate media’s natural reactionary attitude, including for example, stopping and reversing the ongoing media mega-conglomerate mergers (Comcast…). At the same time we need to communicate a strong message on many fronts, repeating the basics over and over as conservatives have since Goldwater, and presenting the availability of more fun and a better party (in both senses) once we begin to move toward a solar economy (That is, an ecologically-based, permacultural/sustainable… solar economy).

  9. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Joe,
    The deniers know how to sell a message.People listen to people, Joe you should have your picture in the banner.

    Rabbett Run would be so much more effective if the Rabbett had a human face. The deniers think they know who he is and he does seem to have them hopping mad.

    Tamino has a realy easy to understand way of explaining statisics. Again a human face would sell the message better. I think I know who Tamino is and if I can put it together so can others. I won’t say, not because I might be wrong but it is possible I am right (first time for everything).

    I realise that scientists think that the science should sell the science, but that is not the way the rest of us think. Unlike the rabbett, we don’t try to see where our heros have gone wrong.

  10. sunsetbeachguy says:

    This is the most insightful thing I have read on the topic. Check all of the links.

    http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/consensus-on-kitten-killing-by-digby.html

    http://www.openleft.com/diary/16460/malicious-bullshittingthe-key-to-global-warming-denialism

    Following up on posts of the last few days asking why the global warming deniers are global warming deniers, Mike the Mad Biologist offers up another explanation, which is very intriguing:
    I think Fred Clark at the Slacktivist hits on a key point in these two posts: “It isn’t intended to deceive others. It’s intended to invite others to participate with you in deception”
    He then excerpts Clark’s discussion an earlier right wing rumor that ran rampant on the right about Procter and Gamble being a satanic cult (seriously) culminating with this observation:
    Are you afraid you might be a coward? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel brave. Are you afraid that your life is meaningless? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend your life has purpose. Are you afraid you’re mired in mediocrity? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel exceptional. Are you worried that you won’t be able to forget that you’re just pretending and that all those good feelings will thus seem hollow and empty? Join us and we will pretend it’s true for you if you will pretend it’s true for us. We need each other.
    I think that’s getting to the heart of this. And for those who observed the chauvinistic fantasies of the keyboard commandos after 9/11, you will recognize some of the same impulses.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    I think this ought to fit here.

    Hank Roberts found
    http://ams.confex.com/ams/Annual2006/techprogram/paper_100737.htm
    in which direct measurements of the warming due to CO2, etc., are reported.

  12. Anna Haynes says:

    Gail (“REALLY SCARY”), the story you linked to is by Declan McCullagh (“Sample topics: economy, politics, interviews, free speech, property rights, gun rights,…”) – who has a track record.

    “When we last left CBS’s Declan McCullagh, he was promoting another fossil-fuel-funded, falsehood-filled CEI attack on clean energy reform”

    Not worth getting excited about, IMO.

  13. Anna Haynes says:

    In looking at the AP of late, I wonder if we’re seeing the (constructive) future of science journalism. One Borenstein-and-crew doing this sort of solid journalism beats a hundred reporters writing he-said-she-said stories.

    Their work needs to run in newspapers worldwide, and the AP’s honchos need to keep the quality this high.

  14. Charles says:

    I’d like to see the AP or Time or one of the big media players do a thorough investigation of Steve McIntyre and Mr. Watts, including a request that they reveal their emails from the past 10 years. Might be interesting.

    Gail, I agree with Anna: the story about the APS isn’t a big deal. It’s the usual crowd looking to stir up trouble. I rather doubt they’ll succeed.

  15. dhogaza says:

    Over at Watts, which I hadn’t looked at in several days, he’s got a post up about this in which he displays an e-mail from Borenstein to CRU (yes, one of *those* e-mails).

    They’re all huffed-up because Borenstein asked for their opinion of some denialist claptrap.

    The horror! A science journalist asking scientists for their opinion about some scientific issue!

    it’s … hilarious … in some sort of alternative-universe way. Who the hell do they think science journalists should be talking to, if not scientists? Uneducated buffoons like Watts?

    (the answer’s obvious, don’t bother)

  16. dhogaza says:

    They’re all huffed-up because Borenstein asked for their opinion of some denialist claptrap.

    That’s not clear … the Watts patrol is upset because Borenstein dared ask CRU for an opinion …

  17. WAG says:

    check it out: WUWT thinks there’s urban heat island effect in Antarctica:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/12/13/frigid-folly-uhi-siting-issues-and-adjustments-in-antarctic-ghcn-data/

    Could he get any more absurd?

  18. Chris Winter says:

    I tried to leave a message in that thread on WUWT. We’ll see if it actually appears.

  19. Chris Winter says:

    OK, it appeared. As did a reply that restates the old conspiracy theory. “Cherry-picking,” my left foot!

  20. Lex says:

    Everybody just talks and talks how many of you actually read ALL of it?